By Natalie Lester, PetSafe Brand Marketing Specialist
You often hear great stories about working dogs in police and fire departments all over the country. You also hear hero stories from search and rescue mission on the scene of disasters like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. I recently stumbled across a search and rescue dog with a different job.
Meet Ginny, the first ever underground mine search and rescue dog. She works for Alpha Natural Resources, a coal company in Bristol, VA. Ginny is trained to search out missing, trapped, injured, or unresponsive humans who are in unstable conditions or confined areas.
She is an adorable brindle-colored Dutch Shepherd, who weighs 48 pounds. Even though she lives with her handler, Rick McAllister, she isn’t a typical companion pet. She spends her time working, training, and resting. After all that work and training, we can’t imagine she would have much energy for a lot of play time. Yet, we bet she’d still love a few indulgent licks of a Lickety Stik.
Ginny’s training started immediately when she was three years old. Within just a few short weeks, she began working wither her trainer Bill Dotson, a leading U.S. expert on canine search and rescue. The training involved two phases. The first taught her to obey commands, work with a handler, and detect human scents. In the second phase, she was trained to actually work with the mine rescue teams and track human scents in underground coal mines. Ginny still trains every day and makes frequent visits to Alpha’s mines and offices.
Ginny wears a customized, protective vest when she works, which prevents possible wounds and lacerations. The vest also contains an infra-red camera that relays pictures to her handler. These images hold life-saving information about inaccessible areas before the rest of the mine rescue team can navigate down to where Ginny is. She also wears a gas detector that sends an audible done when she has entered a dangerous atmosphere. When she hears the alarm, she knows to retreat immediately from her current location.
Along with her search and rescue training, Ginny also has a few other jobs at Alpha. She makes public appearances to help educate children and communities about coal mining and outdoor safety. She is also able to assist law enforcement agencies when situations arise that require her special skills and expertise.
Search dogs were used to locate wounded soldiers as early as 1899, but the use wasn’t formally documented until World War I and World War II. The first search and rescue dogs in the United States were formed in San Francisco due to bomb threats during World War II. However, the units were disbanded after the war. Throughout the early 1980s, the first volunteer search and rescue group was formed in Seattle, Washington and other groups popped up in the Northeast and South. Today, between 300 and 500 canine search and rescue units are estimate to exist in our country.
In 1992, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began the Urban Search and Rescue program, which includes dogs specifically trained to locate subjects trapped in the rubble of natural and man-made disasters. These task forces have been deployed to such disasters as the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks in 2001, and the aftermath Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
If your dog had a job, what would it be?
*Information from Alpha Natural Resources at www.alphaminerescuedog.com.
As the PetSafe Brand Marketing Specialist, Natalie manages The Paw Print blog and generates other brand related content including public relations and promotions. Before PetSafe, Natalie worked in the local media covering politics, education, and religion. Natalie’s puppy, Emma, spends almost as much time in the office as she does.